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Bumgardner, sheriff, NFL player, dies

by Alecia Sirk


(June 3) The criminal thought he was strong enough to escape.

One quick karate blow to the neck and shoulders of the cop standing nearby and it would be over.

The perpetrator made his move. The cop didn't move at all.

"It didn't even faze him," said Ronald Cork, who served as constable under Harrison County Sheriff Rex Bumgardner, the tough cop in Cork's story.

Rex Keith Bumgardner, 74, of 1559 Hoffman Ave., Clarksburg, died Monday.

Bumgardner, a former NFL football player, was stronger than the criminal ever expected, Cork recalled with a chuckle.

"He said, 'My God, who is that man?'" Cork recalled, mimicking the stunned criminal's words.

Bumgardner was born in Clarksburg in 1923 and graduated from Victory High School. From there, he went on to play football for West Virginia University, which was followed by an NFL career with the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills.

In an August 1950 edition of the Buffalo Evening News, an unidentified writer refers to Bumgardner as a "twisting, darting dervish" and calls the halfback a "touch down threat."

During his five years with the NFL, Bumgardner played in five championship games.

"He was one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of Harrison County," said Clarence Fiber Jr., who played football for WVU and looked up to Bumgardner as a young athlete.

"When I was growing up he was playing pro football and all of a sudden here he was coming to watch us play," Fiber said. "He was an inspiration."

As Fiber grew up, he became close friends with his childhood hero.

"He was a great inspiration, a great friend and a great man," he said.

Bumgardner attended almost all of the Frank Loria sports awards banquets, Fiber said, and always made time for the youth of the county.

During one of his bids for sheriff, Bumgardner said children were his inspiration.

"We all grow old, we are all forgotten, we all die and we all dream of leaving a little of ourselves behind. Not so much in bronze or stone, on film or paper -- bronze corrodes, stone erodes, paper and film fade," Bumgardner was quoted as saying in a leaflet during his 1965 bid for sheriff. "The only real immortality is in the part of us that lives in the memory of a kid we have helped."

That bid for office was successful, and Bumgardner served until 1968. He had served earlier from 1957-1960.

From 1969-75, he served as a U.S. marshal.

His bent for law enforcement ran in the family -- his father and grandfather were also Harrison County sheriffs and his mother was the first female sheriff ever elected in the United States.

"From what I saw as his son, he cared about people. Genuinely cared," his oldest son Fred Bumgardner said. "With all the accolades and all the attention, he was modest and humble. I never once heard him brag."

Cork, who was elected sheriff after Bumgardner's second term, said the athlete-turned-police officer always had a helping hand.

"He was always there when you needed him," Cork said.